Teaching green

You probably don’t think that your teaching adds much to your carbon footprint, but there are simple practices you can adopt to make what you do in and around the classroom more environmentally friendly.

We begin with a disclaimer: at CTL, we are not experts in sustainability, but we do try to behave responsibly. So in this post we share some of our insights, and we hope you will share your own. We are wary of “green” calculators and calculations (calculating a “carbon footprint” is a complex process: hidden factors can blur accuracy). Fortunately there are simpler overarching guidelines to being a responsible consumer that can help guide you through the everyday:

Turn the power off when you don’t need it.

  • Turn off the projector in your classroom when you’re not using it. Projectors use lots of electricity.
  • Favor natural light: open the shades, turn off the lights.
  • When you leave your office or your classroom, turn off all power. That includes power strips themselves—which are easy to forget.
  • Learn how to use your computer’s power more efficiently; here are some tips from Energy.gov.

Replace things you throw out with things you reuse.

  • A ceramic mug and a (safe) water bottle will be better for the environment (and your wallet) than plastic or paper “one-time” use cups and bottles.
  • Participate fully in the recycling loop, not only by throwing things out responsibly but by buying recycled products.

Reduce your consumption of paper and other office products.

Going paperless is easier said than done. Paper continues to be a storage medium with some significant advantages over digital storage: a print-out of a class handout can’t get corrupted by a computer virus, it won’t give you compatibility problems when you try to read it (you might need your eyeglasses, though), it’s easy enough to reproduce using a photocopier, and it never runs out of battery. But before you reproduce that handout for your next lecture, consider the impact on the environment: a four-page handout for a class of 100 students uses up close to half a ream of paper.

We’re inspired by Marina Nebro, one of the winners of this semester’s QPortfolio Creative Challenge, who will use her NOOK tablet prize to further her studies “and remain green” by eliminating the need to print out many of her academic readings.

Here are some ways you can reduce paper use:

Whenever possible, use both sides of the paper.

  • Photocopy your handouts and exams double-sided; to cut paper usage in half.
  • Encourage your students to submit papers and other assignments printed double-sided.
  • If your printer does double-sided printing automatically, make this the default printing option, so that you don’t have to remember to print on both sides. (Instructions for duplex printing will vary depending on the operating system, software, and hardware you’re using; this wiki provides some good general instructions.)

Reduce the number of pages.

  • Reducing margins from the default one inch to a half inch all around gets you close to 10 square inches of extra space on the page, a great way to reduce a three-page handout to two pages (or just one sheet of paper, if you’re printing back-to-back). (All of us were students once: the margin trick should be familiar!)
  • Although you don’t want to create handouts with print that’s too small to read (anything smaller than 10 points is probably too small), sometimes reducing the font size by as little as a half a point can save you an entire sheet of paper.  Condensed character spacing is an alternative to shrinking the font, though this tactic can reduce readability if not used sparingly.
  • Consider lay-outs that maximize the amount of ink per square inch. Using two columns or formatting in landscape instead of portrait mode is sometimes more efficient.

Reuse and recycle paper.

  • Save any unused handouts for next time you teach the same material; if the handout won’t be relevant next time, consider reusing the paper as scrap or by printing on the unused side, or recycle the paper in the recycling bin.
  • If you don’t have a paper recycling bin in your office, ask for one in your department office.

Avoid using paper altogether.

  • Collect assignments online, read and mark them up electronically, and return them to students electronically. This can be complicated to set up and manage; for some ideas, check our Blackboard roadmap, section 2.
  • Distribute announcements to your students by email or by posting the information on your course website, rather than by duplicating them on paper. But be aware that other documents you might distribute electronically to your class (like readings or handouts) might eventually wind up on paper: you’re not printing, but your students might be.
  • Use electronic letterhead, so any letters you need to send on letterhead don’t need to be printed, signed, and scanned. (This could save you paper and time.)
  • Rather than sprinting to the photocopier to duplicate a document, consider taking a photo of it. With the right app (CamScanner or ScanMaster, for example), you can easily turn your photo into a PDF, for your future reference. (CamScanner even has the useful function of using OCR to search your scanned documents.)

Reduce your use of other office products.

  • Take attendance directly into an electronic spreadsheet (or use an app, like this one), so you don’t generate paper (which can get lost!). You won’t need to carry around a gradebook if you handle all your grading electronically—but you should remember to back up your grades regularly.
  • Print earth-friendly versions of your PowerPoints: rather than printing one slide at a time in full color, print multiple slides per page, and select black-and-white and draft mode (to use less ink, especially important if you have dark backgrounds on your slides).
  • Recycle electronics, paper and printer cartridges. OCT can help with electronics and cartridge recycling!

Share Your Ideas

Promote environmental literacy by talking about your good practices: bring up issues of sustainability and resource management with your students and with your colleagues, or share your ideas here. What are some ways you have discovered to cut down on waste?


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